My Lords, while the Government do not specifically track applications from asylum seekers based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, we remain focused on supporting all asylum seekers, including LGBT people and those who are vulnerable.
My Lords, as has just been said, the Home Office does not collate or collect central data on the journey of LGBT+ individuals seeking asylum on issues such as the accommodation they are granted, the length of time taken for each case or, if held in detention, how long they are there. So how can the Home Office, with any certainty or credibility, say that LGBT+ individuals seeking asylum do not suffer discrimination, either directly or indirectly, if it does not have the data to evidence that?
My Lords, it is important to consider that, for all people claiming asylum, if that claim is not granted, they are sent back to their country of origin. I understand the vulnerabilities of LGBT people in some countries. For that reason, we provide support in this country when people return to their country of origin. We give them various types of support, including long-term accommodation, legal and medical support, and family tracing, which is incredibly important for someone returning to their own country.
The Government collate data of asylum claims based on sexual orientation. I understand that almost 6,000 asylum applications lodged between 2015 and 2017 stated sexual orientation as the basis of their claim, although my noble friend will be aware that sexual orientation might not be the first basis for a claim.
My Lords, we have seen two very unhappy incidents of homophobia in this country in the last few days—at the theatre in Southampton and on the bus in Camden. Does the Minister agree that denying the dangers facing many asylum seekers, at best, displays a lack of understanding of minorities on the part of the Home Office and, at worst, amounts to real prejudice?
My Lords, the Home Office understands the dangers faced by LGBT people, and our hate crime action plan, launched in 2016, acknowledged them. I know of the two cases that the noble Baroness is talking about, which are very disturbing indeed, so I reject any suggestion that we do not take vulnerabilities, particularly those related to hate crimes meted out on people because of their sexual orientation, very seriously.
It is my understanding—I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that, in 2017, 1,900 applications were made on the grounds, in whole or in part, of sexual orientation. In that year, there were approximately 1,400 appeals, of which 487—nearly a third—were successful. The number of successful appeals was greater than the number of applications granted. I have two questions. First, of the 487 successful appeals involving sexual orientation, which were the top three countries, in terms of the number to which those who appealed successfully would have been returned had their appeals not been successful? Secondly, of those people whose asylum case applications were, in whole or in part, on sexual orientation grounds, were declined in 2017 and were then returned to their relevant country, how many have subsequently been the subject of persecution or discrimination in their relevant country, because of their sexual orientation? I assume the Government have some idea of the answer to both questions because, if they do not know the answer to the second, how do they know that asylum application declinatures have proved correct?
My Lords, when determining asylum claims, the Government will take information from a variety of sources, including the FCO. I cannot answer all the noble Lord’s questions just now, but I can say that of the top five countries for sexual orientation-based asylum claims by volume, the largest by far was Pakistan.
Does the Minister agree that asylum claims on the grounds of gender identity or sexual orientation raise specific difficulties and sensitivities? Is there a special unit in the Home Office containing individuals with particular expertise who look at asylum claims on such grounds and, if not, why not?
The answer to the noble Lord’s question is: yes, absolutely, these claims are very sensitive, both when they are being determined and, if the individual in question finds themselves in detention, there are further sensitivities around the detention estate, particularly with those from certain countries. I acknowledge that. The training undergone by case workers both outside and inside the detention estate is specific to the issues mentioned by the noble Lord.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that a high proportion of the problems that arise from such asylum applications stem from the appalling human rights records of a number of members of the Commonwealth? Surely one solution to the problem—but only one—is for pressure to be brought to bear on those countries that fail to recognise any form of human rights. We must make progress not in the long run but in the short term.
My noble friend raises an important point. Certainly during CHOGM last year, the Prime Minister and others raised issues of human rights. The churches have a big presence in the Commonwealth and can bring some pressure to bear. I understand that the Kenyan Government are now committed to reviewing the penal code to align it with the constitution and to adopting an anti-discrimination law which provides protection irrespective of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.